Sometimes the hazards to your ears are clear: a loud jet engine beside your ears or the screeching equipment on the floor of a factory. When the hazards are intuitive and logical, it’s easy to convince people to take pragmatic solutions (which usually include using earplugs or earmuffs). But what if your ears could be harmed by an organic compound? After all, just because something is organic, doesn’t that necessarily mean it’s good for you? How could something that’s organic be just as bad for your hearing as loud noise?
An Organic Compound You Don’t Want to Eat
To clarify, these organic compounds are not something you can get at the produce section of your grocery store nor would you want to. According to recent (and some not-so-recent) research published by European scholars, chemicals known as organic solvents have a good chance of damaging your hearing even with minimal exposure. To be certain, the kind of organic label you see on fruit in the grocery store is entirely different. In reality, the word “organic” is employed by marketers to make people believe a product is good for them. The term organic, when pertaining to food means that the growers didn’t employ certain chemicals. The word organic, when associated with solvents, is a chemistry term. Within the field of chemistry, the word organic refers to any chemicals and compounds that consist of bonds between carbon atoms. Carbon atoms can generate all kinds of different molecules and, therefore, a large number of different convenient chemicals. But sometimes they can also be dangerous. Millions of workers every year work with organic solvents and they’re frequently exposed to the risks of hearing loss while doing so.
Where do You Find Organic Solvents?
Some of the following products have organic solvents:
- Degreasing agents
- Varnishes and paints
- Cleaning products
- Glues and adhesives
You get the point. So, here’s the question, will your hearing be harmed by cleaning or painting?
Hazard Associated With Organic Solvents
Based on the most current research out there, the hazards related to organic solvents generally increase the more you’re exposed to them. So when you clean your home you will most likely be ok. The biggest risk is experienced by people with the most prolonged contact, in other words, factory workers who develop or utilize organic solvents on a commercial scale. Industrial solvents, in particular, have been well researched and definitively show that exposure can lead to ototoxicity (toxicity to the auditory system). This has been demonstrated both in laboratory experiments involving animals and in experiential surveys involving real people. Exposure to the solvents can have a detrimental impact on the outer hair cells of the ear, causing hearing loss in the mid-frequency range. The difficulty is that many companies are not aware of the ototoxicity of these compounds. An even smaller number of workers know about the dangers. So those workers don’t have consistent protocols to protect them. One thing that could really help, for instance, would be standardized hearing exams for all workers who use organic solvents on a regular basis. These workers would be able to get early treatment for hearing loss because it would be detected in its beginning stages.
You Can’t Just Quit Your Job
Regular Hearing exams and limiting your exposure to these solvents are the most common suggestions. But first, you have to be mindful of the hazards before you can follow that advice. It’s straight forward when the hazards are plain to see. It’s obvious that you need to take precautions against the noise of the factory floor and any other loud sounds. But it isn’t so easy to convince employers to take precautions when there is an invisible hazard. Fortunately, as specialists raise more alarm bells, employees and employers are starting to make their workplaces a little bit less dangerous for everyone. Some of the best advice would be to use a mask and work in a well ventilated area. It would also be a smart idea to get your hearing examined by a hearing care specialist.